This article contains spoilers from season 1 of Criminal Minds: Evolution.
When Criminal Minds: Evolution debuted on Paramount+ in November 2022, fans and cast members alike welcomed back the BAU. After close to three years since the original CBS drama went off the air, there was room left for growth and change for everyone involved. Such was the case for actress A.J. Cook, who viewed her return as J.J. Jareau as an opportunity to navigate a new, yet familiar direction on TV.
When Criminal Minds fans reunited with J.J. in the new reboot, she was a different woman. The character appeared exhausted while being a full-time wife and mom to two boys during the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, it had been some time since she was out in the field after the BAU was disbanded. But as A.J. told Good Housekeeping, there was intention behind the way her character evolved. She wanted J.J. to feel authentic to what the audience has lived through the last few years.
“We picked [Criminal Minds: Evolution] up in [the COVID-19] pandemic, and we wanted it to feel real,” she told us. “That was a huge driving force behind J.J. I wanted her to look exhausted. I wanted her with little to no makeup. Like, hair not done, if done at all. I wanted it to feel different from before because she’s different.”
But J.J.’s physical appearance wasn’t the only change the character experienced. In season 1 episode 4, she learns that her husband Will LaMontagne Jr. (Josh Stewart) needs medical testing over concerns that he may have cancer. Coupled with the fact that she was hunting down a serial killer with her work family, J.J. felt at odds with what to do and how to feel.
According to the actress, this wasn’t all fictional. The arc hit home for A.J., as part of the storyline derived from her real-life husband, fashion designer Nathan Andersen, being diagnosed with cancer. While A.J. has gone on to confirm that he’s now cancer-free, it shaped the way her character — and subsequently the actress herself — persevered through tougher times.
“Some things happened and we had to sort of pivot with that storyline,” she explained. “It’s like one more thing on top of your already full list of things to do in a day, and then you get handed this diagnosis and the worry that comes with that. I get J.J.”
A.J. continued: “We’ve given J.J. a lot of my stuff. And in turn, I feel like I’ve been able to steal J.J.’s strength in times when I’ve needed it. She’s such a badass, and she’s not afraid to stand up for herself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to channel that energy.”
But not everything about J.J.’s family life is dark in Criminal Minds: Evolution. A.J. got the chance to direct an episode where she interacted with her sons Mekhai and Phoenix, who have portrayed J.J.’s kids Henry and Michael since the original CBS series.
While it’s unclear whether more of her family life will be explored in the since-confirmed season 2, she did share that folks won’t expect what’s coming next for the BAU.
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“Where we leave it at the end of this season is such a jump board into what’s going to happen next season,” A.J. spilled to us. “Let’s just say, the audience is going to be thrilled and angry and mad that they have to wait.”
“Erica Messer, our showrunner, she’s so good at what she does. She’s got a plan and I can’t wait to see it all come together. We’re going to do what we always do. We’re going to take you on a crazy, crazy wild ride with lots of twists and turns,” she concluded.
With that in mind, we can’t wait to see what Criminal Minds: Evolution (and A.J.) has in store.
As the entertainment and news editorial assistant for Good Housekeeping, Adrianna (she/her) writes about everything TV, movies, music and pop culture. She graduated from Yeshiva University with a B.A. in journalism and a minor in business management. She covers shows like The Rookie, 9-1-1 and Grey’s Anatomy, though when she’s not watching the latest show on Netflix, she’s taking martial arts or drinking way too much coffee.